Well Jayhawk fans, we have hit the home stretch! Forty-eight days away from the official start of the Les Miles era. There is so much excitement surrounding the Kansas Jayhawks football program, as many fans wait anxiously to see the turnaround that is long overdue, and deserved.
With this being my first blog entry here on Hawk Jock, I would first like to take a paragraph or two to introduce myself.
My name is Jordan Ashleigh, I was born in Topeka, Kansas and raised in Wichita, Kansas. Being born into a KU-loving family, I really had no choice but to root for the Jayhawks although my grandma and uncle established themselves as the Wildcat lovers in the family, understandably so because they attended the university….I attended Maize Schools in Maize, Kansas from kindergarten all the way until I graduated high school in 2014. After high school, I attended Butler Community College where I worked as the women’s basketball team manager while going to school. In April of 2016, I enlisted in the Kansas Army National Guard where I served for 3 years. In my free time I like to play video games, make highlight videos, or just do anything outside with my beautiful Pitbull, Nova. Now that I’m apart of the Hawk Jock crew, I will mostly be dedicating my free time to bringing you wonderful people the best content I can. You can follow my Twitter (@ItsJayAshleigh) and my Instagram (@JayAshleigh).
Now that you know a little bit about me, let’s jump right into the topic, who will be the most important starters for the Jayhawks this fall?
As we all know, when it comes to football the most important position is the quarterback. Although the QB plays such a crucial role to the success that a team will have, I’m going to be the odd one out here and say it starts with the coach and the culture he brings to a program.
For the past decade us Kansas fans have been tortured by watching what seemed like a little league football team. Only racking up a total of five conference wins in the last decade, Kansas had long been in its search for that one coach who would not only turn losses into wins, but change the overall culture of the football program and bring that toughness back.
Turner Gill, with the utmost respect just couldn’t seem to get the wheels rollin’ after taking over for Mark Mangino. Gill went 5-19 during his time at Kansas from 2010-2011. Watching a Gill-lead teams was just the beginning of many seasons of disappointment. Next man up was the one and only, Charlie Weis. Weis’ tenure at Kansas only lasted two seasons, rightfully so as he ran the program into even more obliteration. Many described his attitude as only caring about the money and didn’t care to turn the program around. There was a lot of excitement when Weis first arrived, though. Weis had previously coached at Norte Dame from 2005-2009, putting up a record of 35-27 with 1 bowl win and being ranked as high as No. 2 in the AP poll. With all of that being said, Kansas fans had all the right reasons to think Weis might get the job done. We quickly realized that Weis would eventually just be another coach that we owed millions to.
Next man up was Clint Bowen who took over as the interim head coach after Charlie Weis was dumped during the 2014 season, and for me personally, I was very excited about this hire. Coach Bowen played for KU, and was a defensive minded coach. Bowen coached players like Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., and was apart of the coaching staff when Kansas posted a 3-1 bowl record, including the Orange Bowl win over Virginia Tech in 2008. Unfortunately, Coach Bowen’s head coaching stint didn’t go well at all. The Jayhawks finished the season 1-7, but fortunately for Bowen, he was still able to maintain a coaching position on the team, and currently serves as the safeties coach under Les Miles.
Texas A&M’s wide receivers coach David Beaty was the next man to step up to the plate and take on the challenge of coaching the Kansas Jayhawks. Since Beaty was our head coach most recently before Les Miles was hired, I don’t feel the need to go on a spiel about him. Although Coach Beaty only won three games during his three seasons at Kansas, the man could recruit those Louisianimals. Mike Lee, Pooka Williams Jr., and Corione Harris just to name a few. I’m not sure about you other ‘Hawk fans, but while Beaty was the head coach, every year it seemed as if the team played more competitive, and overall just seemed to play with more fire. Unlike Charlie Weis, David Beaty actually cared about the University of Kansas and tried his best to at least push the program in the right direction, and that folks, was a neat deal to finally see a coach who cared and left the program in a place where the only direction they could go was up.
That brings us to the mad hatter himself, coach Les Miles. I remember when news broke out that once again the Jayhawks would be searching for a new coach. That didn’t come without the sacrifice of our former athletic director, Sheahon Zenger. It didn’t take long for Kansas to find his replacement in former vice chancellor and athletic director at the University of Arkansas, Jeff Long. Ah ha! As soon as I saw who our new athletic director was, and who he had ties to I knew Les Miles would be our next coach. Two men from the SEC, who some consider to be the best football conference in all of college sports, were going to be at the University of Kansas. Someone told me there was “no way” Coach Miles would ever come to a dumpster fire of a football program, but I just had this feeling he would be our savior! Les Miles was hungry to get back into coaching. He won a national title with LSU the same year Kansas won the Orange Bowl. Coach Miles has an astonishing coaching record of 142-55, and a bowl record of 8-6. Putting it simply, the man is a winner, and he wanted the challenge of turning a program around, saw it the opportunity, and took it. Ever since Les has touched down in Lawrence, the entire culture surrounding the football program, and even the university as a whole has changed.
KU currently has 21 commits for the class of 2020, and it’s not even August yet! Now, I know the football recruiting process is a lot different from basketball recruiting, and you constantly have guys committing, de-committing, and recommitting before it’s signed, sealed, and delivered, but you have to acknowledge how serious Les is taking this. Kansas currently has the No. 32 recruiting class for the class of 2020, according to 24/7 sports, and I’ll be the first one to admit that I don’t think I’ve ever seen KU with a recruiting class that high so early in the recruiting period. You can find videos on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and even YouTube of how hyped the football team is with Les taking charge. We look hungry. We look angry. That right there is why it all starts with the coach being the most important asset to a team. A team is the reflection of the coach, and dang-it we got ourselves one of the greatest.
Now, onto some players I think will play key roles to contributing to the football teams success this season. I don’t want you to think that I expect us to go to a bowl game this first year with Coach Miles, but I do expect 3-4 total wins as opposed to 0-2 wins with at least one conference win. I feel like that’s a fair enough expectation to have considering this will be one of the more experienced teams in recent memory with twenty-four seniors and thirty juniors, ten being red-shirts.
First up we have hard-hitting senior safety Mike Lee. Once an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention for Defensive Freshman of the Year, Mike Lee should have no problem taking on the roll as the leader on a defense that’s very experienced. Lee posted a total of 50 solo tackles, seventeen assisted tackles, two forced fumbles, and one interception during the 2018-2019 season. If Lee can duplicate what he did during his junior season, and then some, then he should be a big contributor to success, and should collect some personal awards as well.
Next on the list for who I believe will be crucial to the teams success next year is Khalil Herbert. Some of you may be thinking, “What about Pooka Williams?” After Pooka serves his one-game suspension, I expect Herbert to take the backseat. I mean, why wouldn’t Pooka start? I understand he had his off the field issues, but Pooka cooperated with law authorities, and those within the University of Kansas to get back with the team and get back to work before the season starts. Herbert will start game one of the season against Indiana State, and more than likely the second game of the season against Coastal Carolina with Pooka taking second string reps. By the third game of the season I expect Pooka to take back the starting roll and have Herbert in the passenger seat. We all know what Pooka is capable of, he was the star during last seasons campaign, so what about Herbert? One game that comes to mind for me is back in 2017 against West Virginia when Herbert put up 291 rushing yards on 36 rushing attempts, and two touchdowns. That same year against Ohio, Herbert rushed for 137 yards and two touchdowns on 19 attempts. Although Khalil Herbert isn’t anywhere near as fast as Pooka, he runs hard and can get through the line with his patience and strength. Herbert’s best game during the 2018-2019 season came against then No. 24th ranked Iowa State. Khalil rushed for 91 yards on 21 carries with no touchdowns in a game where the offense struggled mightily, only scoring 3 points. If Herbert can earn himself another Preseason All-Big 12 Third Team and live up to that expectation like he has, he will compliment Pooka nicely and help keep the offense a well-running machine.
Many of you may be on the Carter Stanley train, he has stuck with the program through thick and thin even when some coaches refused to play him when other quarterbacks weren’t getting the job done. The kid deserves at least a chance, and unfortunately I am not in Lawrence and don’t have the credentials to watch practices and workouts, but I’m sure he is getting his chance to show what he can do. But one guy I’ve heard from inside sources that is doing well under center is Junior transfer QB Thomas MacVittie. MacVittie, the No. 2 rated pro-style QB by JCGridiron.com, is said to be making throws that Stanley and Kendrick aren’t quite yet able to make. During this past decade of grief and embarrassment, one thing that we have lacked at QB is the ability to make plays when it counts. MacVittie threw for 1,064 and sixteen touchdowns in just six games with Mesa CC. That’s about two touchdowns per game. In comparison to Peyton Bender, who threw a total of 13 touchdowns and 1,894 yards in 11 games during the 2018 season. Now obviously playing at a Power 5 conference school is very different than playing at a community college, but for what it’s worth KU hasn’t had a decent guy at QB with a head coach that knew how to use him properly. Les Miles and Thomas MacVittie have the potential to do something special within these next two seasons to really get the wheels rolling on this program turnaround. Remember, MacVittie doesn’t need to be great, he just has to take some of the pressure off of Pooka open up the run game more, and when it comes time for it, be able to make those throws in those crunch times.
The 2019-2020 season is right around the corner, y’all. Expectations are as high as they are low, but one thing we all know is that it’s the beginning of a new era, and with the help of the class that Beaty left behind, and a championship-winning coach, anything is possible this season. Rock Chalk!